Catherine Johnson has gone through 30 gallons of bleach cleaning her home on Ravine Drive in Friendswood since the flood of late August swept through her life.
“You realize what you need and don’t need,” she said Thursday in front of a tall debris pile that walled her front yard from the street. “Out of all this junk, it’s the kid’s pictures and drawings I’m going to miss. Any doodle they did, I hoarded.”
She and her husband, Mark Johnson, didn’t have flood insurance.
“We were told we didn’t need it,” she said.
About 3,000 homes in Friendswood flooded in the deluge that followed Hurricane Harvey, and an estimated 1,000 of those lacked flood insurance, city officials said.
Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 in Rockport, about 200 miles south of Friendswood, but in the 72 or so hours that followed, it dumped more than 50 inches of rain in some parts of the area, swelling creeks and bayous and flooding thousands of homes.
The Johnsons, who live on the Harris County side of Friendswood, are just one of those families trying to figure out what to do next.
WAITING ON FEMA
A sign by the Johnsons’ front door that is right at eye level warns “Solicitors will be eaten by zombies.” The bottom of the sign touches the mark left behind by muddy water full of small fibers that stuck to the bricks.
“We live here so our kids could go to good schools,” Catherine Johnson said. “We still want to stay here.”
Most of her neighbors in the hard-hit Forest Bend subdivision didn’t have flood insurance, she said.
Some of them have already had a visit from a Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other neighbors seemed to have disappeared or gone on extended vacations, she said.
“FEMA hasn’t been here yet,” she said.
The Johnsons had applied for FEMA assistance, but were still waiting Friday for a FEMA inspector to visit the house. It’s confusing that FEMA had already been to other homes in the neighborhood and that some neighbors claimed to already have received money from the agency, she said.
One possible reason is that the other homeowners might have applied before the Johnsons, FEMA spokesman William Rukeyser said. Other factors can slow down some applications or streamline others.
TURNED DOWN By SBA
The Johnsons did apply for a Small Business Administration loan, but they were denied, Catherine Johnson said.
The administration offers federal low-interest disaster loans to homeowners, renters, nonprofit organizations and businesses, administration spokesman David Reetz said.
“Our job is to help people uninsured or underinsured,” Reetz said.
But the loans have requirements such as good credit and an ability to pay the loan back.
“We have good credit,” Catherine Johnson said.
The administration determined they needed $200,000 to rehabilitate their house, but did not determine the Johnsons had enough income to pay the loan back, Catherine Johnson said.
“We didn’t need all the money,” she said. “Why couldn’t we have just borrowed some of that to get us back?”
It is SBA policy, Reetz said. While he couldn’t talk about specific cases, in general terms, the administration wants all of the damage repaired, not just a part of it, Reetz said.
The Johnsons didn’t just lose their belongings, they lost their home business. Catherine and Mark Johnson sold items on eBay, mostly clothes.
It wasn’t until Thursday that Catherine Johnson was able to get someone at eBay on the phone to talk about her business.
Her means of income is on pause.
“It’s enough to pay all our bills,” she said.
“They can apply for a business loan,” Reetz said. Even if the business was in the home, a homeowner who has a home business can apply for an SBA disaster loan for both the house and for the business.
“You don’t have to worry about having all your documents to apply,” Reetz said. “Just bring in what’s logical and we can get the rest later.”
The important thing is to apply, he said.
Catherine Johnson isn’t sure she wanted an SBA loan anyway, she said.
“They put a lien on your house,” she said.
And she doesn’t like asking for help either. She and her husband already started repairs. They are doing the work themselves. They are living in the house with two teenage children while they make those repairs.
“We’ll put everything on credit cards, and get to work,” Catherine Johnson said. “It’s like camping. We’ll get through it.”
The Johnson family was sitting in the living room as the water started to rise. It would rise and go down, then rise again, Catherine Johnson said.
The couch started floating, she said. The sectional separated into its sections. The refrigerator started to levitate. Her teenage son swam through the hall with goggles and a flashlight. He found a crawfish.
The family took to the roof, hoisting two large dogs to the top, she said. They talked to their neighbors on other roofs, Mark Johnson said. The water kept rising, so they swam inside the house with the dogs to put them in the attic.
“We didn’t think we could take them to a shelter,” Catherine Johnson said. “It was a hard choice.”
They had a small aluminum boat, but the water was so high and the current was so swift down Ravine Drive, they couldn’t get in the boat, Mark Johnson said.
So they swam with the boat. They swam for two hours against a current to go about half a mile to Wedgewood Elementary School, Catherine Johnson said.
They made it, and found out they could have brought the dogs, Mark Johnson said.
The surreal sights of water over the cars and swimming against a current on her street overwhelmed her, Catherine Johnson said.
“I’ve cried,” she said. “When I was done crying, everything was the same except my mascara was smeared. It’s our choice. My choice is to accept everything as it is and fix it.”
The real problem is that the family is in a financial bind, she said.
“We are self-sufficient,” Catherine Johnson said. “We roll up our sleeves. We’re usually offering the help.”
They don’t want charity, they want to pay back for whatever they need to fix their home and get back to their business, she said.
“It’s really not a tragedy,” Catherine Johnson said. “The power’s on. The air works. We’ll figure it out.”